From the Writer’s Den

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For the second year in a row I was able to attend the Amelia Island Book Festival, set on the gorgeous Northern Florida Coast.

This festival always gathers famous authors.

I really got the chair de poule when the one and only Goosebumps’ creator R.L. Stine stepped behind his table to sign his books, only a few feet away from mine.

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I spoke with the French chef and TV personality Jacques Pépin. En français, of course.

Although I missed him, David Baldacci was there too.

But it’s even better to meet author friends.

 

photo-50My friend Jennifer Swanson writes awsome non fiction books for children about science.

On Friday, I was part of the Authors in School program and visited a local middle school, half an hour inland. There, I met ninety students who had read my novel Chronicles From Château Moines. Their school librarian had handpicked my book among many others. We had exchanged a few emails prior to my visit, but nothing beats the pleasure to meet in person someone who trusts you with her students.

I’ve already shared on this blog what I think of libraries and librarians. I basically put them on a pedestal. Public libraries have saved me at several moments of my life.

When I was a shy kid who took comfort in books but had no money to buy them new.

When I was a student, new to Paris and still on a tight budget.

When I was a newcomer to the USA and understood that I had to become as fluent as possible in all things American if I wanted to call this vast country my home one day.

The countless hours I’ve spent inside libraries, whether in France or the United States, have offered me so much more than just books.

So on Friday, I was very happy when I found out that I would meet the students inside their school library.

The librarian had given me carte blanche for my presentation, but she had told me that it would be wonderful to emphasize the historical facts that are the backdrop of my novel.

I also knew that most of the students had probably not traveled abroad. After all, I had also lived a rural childhood and only went to London (my first ever trip abroad) when I was at the university, even though I lived right across the Chanel.

So I figured that telling these boys and girls a little bit about France would interest them. But you know what is said about show, don’t tell?

So I added several photos from my native Normandy to my presentation. I’m lucky because Normandy is one of the most renowned French regions in the US. Sadly, it is mostly due to WWII and D Day.

flersMy hometown.

domfrontDomfront, Normandy

caenCaen, Normandy where I did my undergrad studies

plagenormandieD Day landing beaches

But I was visiting twelve and thirteen-year-old students, so this war is a very old war that cannot resonate much with them.

So I told them about my dad chewing his first piece of gum and my mom eating chocolate for the first time in years, when they were barely older than them.

Based on my last school visit and the success of the French song I played, I also added more music to this presention. These kids love French music, even though they don’t understand the lyrics.

I admitted that I couldn’t understand English lyrics either when I arrived in California. They asked me how long it took me to be fluent. In general, specified one.

That’s a hard question. You don’t want to discourage anyone, right? But you cannot lie either. So I made a distinction between oral comprehension and reading skills, between casual conversation and writing skills. Also that is was easier to learn a foreign language when you were a child.

After a Trivia Game based on the novel, we ended with a Q&A moment.

A girl shared that she was like Sylvie in my book: she also wrote songs in a notebook.

A boy told me that he wanted to play professional basketball like Jake.

Another one played the guitar like Scott.

It’s a good feeling when a reader relates to one fictional character.

That’s why I loved reading so much when I was a kid. Finding someone who was a little bit like me or a lot like me made me understand that I was not alone and that much different from anyone else.

Another girl asked me to say something in French. That’s a common question. Even adults sometimes ask me to speak French. So I returned the question and asked them what they wanted me to say.

“Tell us in French that you will sign our books at the end.”

So I did tell them under oohhs and aahhs.

Which always surprises me because French is my native language and I have no idea why everyone thinks it’s beautiful.

I told them that I’d love to speak American English like them and they looked at me like it was the weirdest dream to have.

They also wanted to know if their first names had a French equivalent.

I made Violet (Violette), Luke (Luc), and Alexander (Alexandre) happy and I felt bad to break the news to Tray, Shellby and Devon. But I reassured them: many French kids now have American first names too.

The boys and girls who had a name with a French equivalent asked me to sign their copy of my book in French. Aw…

 

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And they liked the T-shirt I wore. I bought it for another school visit right before Valentine’s Day and decided that it was okay to wear it again, even a few days after Valentine’s Day.

Besides, the story is about peace, said one girl. Right.

So, in case we doubt that our diverse backgrounds and personal stories cannot open discussions and create links between us, here is the truth:

Kids and teens in this early part of the 21st century are curious, smart, open minded, generous and non judgmental.

The future is theirs and it is in good hands when the heart is at the right place.

I trust them. All of them.

From one coast to another and everywhere in between.

And of course, beyond our frontiers.

 

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Comments

  1. That sounds like a lovely visit. It’s nice of you to share your time like that.

    • I love visiting children and teens and it’s really an amazing way to realize that the world is in a much better spirit that we could think if we watched the news instead offering the future of our world. Thank you, Dan for yet another visit.

  2. Katy Duffield says:

    Such a lovely post! The students were lucky to have you visit.

  3. Lovely post and I really like the tee-shirt 🙂

  4. Beautiful post, Evelyne! And what a great recounting of your school visit to discuss your book with the students. Nice, too, that you could bring your home region of Normandy into the discussion. It means so much to kids to get an international perspective. I laughed at your surprise that the children all commented on how beautiful French is (which it is, of course!) My kids get this all the time with Italian, too, and they often have to ‘say something’ in Italian so people can hear it. And they also love being ‘Alexandre’ et (Petit) ‘Nicolas’ in their French classes. My youngest takes after his naughty literary counterpart. : )

  5. This sounds so rewarding Evelyne, I loved hearing about the visit and the things they wanted you to tell them and it’s great that they were so open to hearing about a different culture and language.

    • I love it when I get to meet these young people. Makes me so optimistic. Two of my daughters who study and work with kids and teens gather the same feelings of hope. The future sounds so much happier when adults really take the time to talk with younger girls and boys. See you, Andrea and thank you for visiting me.

  6. The pictures of your hometown are breathtaking. What a lovely visit you’ve had. 🙂

    • Thank you, Selina. If you get to visit France, Normandy is a good idea besides Paris. There is a great variety of scenery which cannot leave anyone indifferent. Thank you for stopping by.

  7. Ahh Evelyne, what a delightful post. You look so happy in your photos! I loved reading about your day at the school library, so heartened to read of your experience and the response of the students. It must be so wonderful to talk about your book with such a captive, young audience. I particulary enjoyed your photos of Normandy. We so much enjoyed visiting Sainte-Mère-Église in 2015 giving us a mere taste of your beautiful home province, the area as a whole we hope to re-visit very soon. Lovely to read you again my friend, see you soon! 🙂

    • Thank you, Sherri. I’m quite partial to Normandy it’s true 🙂
      The mix of seascape and rural bucolic scenery is beautiful. Not as stunning as the mountains or the lavender fields of the south, but it is the more subtle beauty that I like. The weather is unpredictable and it’s a good idea to take it a day at a time there, something I also love. And yes, meeting young readers is more than a treat. See you on your blog, Sherri.

      • That’s good to know, thank you Evelyne. I too am very partial to seascape 🙂 People tell us that the weather in Normany is very similar to British, so taking it one day at a time sounds about right! Having travelled down as far as the Dordogne, I am familiar with the glorious sunflower fields, but have yet to see the famed lavender fields and mountains further south. One day. Your home country is truly beautiful…as is my own, of course, each with it’s own unique character. And then of course, there is America. But we would be here all day discussing the vastness and variety of it all…and I might get a touch homesick for California 😉 See you soon Evelyne!

      • Agree on all fronts, Sherri 🙂

      • 🙂

  8. judithworks says:

    What a wonderful opportunity to attend the conference. We’ve been to Normandy – beautiful and great food too.

  9. Behind the Story says:

    Your account of visiting the children was just beautiful. It made me fall in love with them and you and the experience you had together. Living in the country and never having me anyone from France, it must have been real thrill for them to hear you sing and pronounce the French equivalent of their names. Lovely pictures.

    • Thank you, Nicki. It was a very special time for me and I wished for more photos. Hard to take some when you are presenting 🙂
      I love it when I meet kids and teens. They are curious and open minded, regardless of where they live. I feel lucky when I get to spend time with them.
      See you soon!

  10. A wonderful experience, thank you for sharing 🙂 Reading is a joy and libraries have always been my favourite places.

  11. Such a great presentation – I’m sure all the students want to go to France! Isn’t it odd that the days of our youth are now history for this generation?

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